Recently, we were invited to a wine and dinner evening, me and my husband Murray.  A rather upmarket affair as it was a dégustation, the French haute cuisine way of pairing selected wines with fine dining fare.  It was to be held at the Stanley Hotel, an address in Port Moresby a few miles from downtown. 

From the first glance as you step into the grand foyer of The Stanley hotel,  there is a feeling of understated elegance with a distinct degree of luxuriousness.  Everywhere you look it is light, cool, spacious, welcoming, plush without seeming opulent, and with clean lines and stunning décor.

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We took the lift up to the 19th floor, where the dinner was being held in the premium Silver Leaf restaurant.  Staff were friendly and welcoming, even though we were slightly early. 

The management really put the effort into the environment, as it appeared we walked into a celebrity wedding venue by mistake – wow.  All that was missing was the head table on a podium and the wedding cake.

The dinner was hosted by Brown Brothers winery, up from Milawa in the southern Australian state of Victoria, to promote their brand in Papua New Guinea.  The presentation at the entrance was beautiful, with all of the mainstay brands of their wine expertly placed in strategic points on the table, some on small stands and others flanked by floral arrangements. 

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We had a good chat to the Browns Brothers wine ambassador, Mr ANDREW HARRIS, with the Silver Leaf staff offering trays of Brown Brothers King Valley Prosecco, a vibrant, easy-drinking sparkling wine, or ‘bubbles’ for short, plus Yellow-fin Tuna canapes to go with it.  By this time the whole complement of guests had arrived, and duly armed with a glass of Prosecco, the place was mingling in full swing within a very short timeframe. That is, the party has officially started!

What does one call the glass of 'bubbles' that one is drinking?  As a general rule you call it where it comes from such as: Prosecco is produced in northeastern Italy, whereas Champagne is from the Champagne region in France, and wine made in a similar method from the Penedes region of Spain, is called Cava.  Naming conventions and regional differences exist, as well as the grapes from which they are pressed.  

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However, it does depend on the audience, because if a convivial time is required then ‘bubbles’ will do, but if a differentiation between countries, or flavour differences is more important then all of these nuances come into play, so drinks are described and discussed accordingly.

Prosecco producers press Glera grapes, which is then converted to a light aromatic wine.  It then goes through a secondary fermentation called the charmat method, in special stainless-steel vats. By comparison, the Champagne and Cava processes do this second fermentation individually in each bottle.

Which reminded me - Prosecco – when did Brown Brothers Wines first make it in Australia?  We enjoyed the taste of Prosecco quite a long time ago in the UK, and it had been one of our favourite tipples. Apparently it has recently struck a chord in the UK, as that country has recently consumed a third of all Prosecco produced in northern Italy in the past few years, so obviously they really like it.

Our talk with the Brown Brothers wine ambassador had us first thinking that it was just a recent innovation to plant the glera grape in Australia, but apparently not because they had the foresight to invest early in 2009: “everyone in our market Downunder is currently drinking red, so let’s plant the next popular white grapes right now”. 

With the Prosecco demand growing in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, Prosecco appears to be a very good move.

Living in the UK as we were back then, we had been planning a driving tour around southern France with wineries and food in mind, but that had to be put on hold due to me falling gravely ill: the AVM brain haemorrhagic stroke that required emergency 9-hour open-brain surgery.  It left me unable to: walk, talk, read, write, remember, was in a wheelchair, and paralyzed on the right side. In the past, we toured champagne houses, made a beeline for cognac/brandy distillers, visited revered St. Emilion areas, done the trips down the Rhone before I had the stroke, but now the reality was a little different.  I had to judge when I was ready to attempt more activities in relearning life, after graduating out of the wheelchair the fact that travel was quite a large part of who I was hadn’t diminished at all – in fact it burned more, so I was determined to get that back.

So, some time after the stroke I had a good chance of visiting the vineyards around the top of France, i.e. around the Champagne regions of Reims and Epernay over a long weekend.  I wasn't able to do a lot at that time, but the change of scenery was great.  Later, I could very hesitantly walk in shuffling, careful steps - my coordination was just not there.  Later still, balance was minimal with my right side sensation severely impaired, but we did manage the Cava region in Penedes, Spain.  I couldn't really say much at the time; this unwanted, fearful thought in case I fell, and do more damage to myself was always at the back of my mind.

Back to the present, we mingled with other guests, drank a bit more, then, it was time to sit at the allocated tables.  With each course, there were one or two anecdotal tales about the wine-pairings by Andrew the wine ambassador, and a little quip here and there.  He weaved tales of grapes and vineyards.

andrew harris, the consummate wine ambassador, in full flight

andrew harris, the consummate wine ambassador, in full flight

lobster consomme, and glass of top wine = a good start

lobster consomme, and glass of top wine = a good start

expert staff at the stanley silver leaf

expert staff at the stanley silver leaf

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We started with the Lobster Reef Tartare– a delicately seductive consommé, a sudden burst of flavour as you bite into the lobster-bits, and fresh coriander perked up the spice of the broth.  A good choice to pair it with Tamar Ridge Pinot Gris, as the smooth and rich wine matched it nicely.  Next some lemon sorbet, to cleanse the palate.

The next course was the John Dee Striploin; tender, pink on the inside, deliciously done to perfection.  To accompany was a choice of reds; bold Brown Brothers Ten Acres Shiraz, with dark fruit and concentrated earthiness, and Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir the smoother counterpart, rich ripe dark red fruits.  Before my stroke in the UK, the French reds from St. Emilion, or Chateuneuf du Pape were favourites.  Later in Spain we had a kaleidoscope of flavours to choose from.   

Ah, dessert came next, and sweet dessert wines; what would be the wine-pairing from Brown Brothers? Since we don’t partake in many desserts these days, sweeter wine isn’t usually a choice for us.  It reminded me of trying to find a particular bottle of Pineau des Charentes in New Zealand.  Pineau is a fortified wine, from France, served as a chilled apéritif or with pudding.  Hmmm, Waiheke Island vineyards, or perhaps in the South Island Otago wine-growing areas, would have similar wines like Felton Road and Mt. Difficulty wineries, close to Cromwell.

…one of many vineyards on waiheke island, near auckland

…one of many vineyards on waiheke island, near auckland

Felton road winery

Felton road winery

mt difficulty, (with snow on the mountains!)

mt difficulty, (with snow on the mountains!)

Having first discovered it in one of the renowned brandy houses, Martell , in Cognac France, we found most bottle-stores in the UK stocked it.  However returning to NZ in 2011, it was difficult to find anybody who'd even heard of it.  Pineau is accidental: apparently Cognac was poured into an empty barrel for the two-year ageing process, but no-one noticed the barrel still had fortified wine left in it. The result is a golden amber coloured liquid, which is crisp, and luscious with in-depth morishness - where could we find it? 

Someone recommended to try a French bottle-store importer in Newmarket, Auckland. Who would have thought? Well of course they had it, and just about everything else from France, in bulk it seemed.  A true Francois’s cave of every French bottle of wine (it seemed) on the first floor, where the building structure groaned and sagged with the weight of it all. I was better to climb the stairs to the first floor to see for myself.  Murray had a dearth of choice, even had Pineau Rose or original Pineau des Charentes and others from more than one winery– it was better than being in the heart of France.

Back to the Wine Evening degustation. The dessert was presented with a flourish: dark chocolate mousse with all the trimmings, Chocolate Praline Honey.

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To complement its richness, the Brown Brothers sweet dessert wine was divine – Patricia Noble 2014.  Even the name sounded intriguing.  Rich, unctuous, vibrant, honey-toned characters, it had more complex and mature flavours as you savour the lingering finish. Perfect for ending the evening.

Many thanks to Andrew Harris, Wine Ambassador at Brown Brothers // Brown Family Group.   He was very knowledgeable, and we thoroughly enjoyed the chat beforehand, as well as his presentation, and great wines.

Also, the staff and management Silver Leaf team at The Stanley,  notably the Chef and the team behind-the-scenes, as well as the front staff, who were personable, unobtrusive and quietly efficient, very professional, and made the evening extremely enjoyable.  They were very forthcoming with a specially-made entree for one of our table-members who had restricted diet requirements.  The dinner event was exemplary, balanced and deliciously decadent.

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